Friday, April 10, 2015


By Juan Montoya
When District Judge Arturo Nelson introduced the Pre-Trial Release Program (PTRP), it was hailed as a godsend by the county.
It would lessen jail overcrowding that at $40 a day was draining the county budget. Lowering the inmate count would also make room for prisoners and stop the county from paying other counties to house them while they awaited trial.
It would also provide more from to house federal prisoners and earn the county some money.
By providing the defendant with a 3 percent bond instead of the standard 10 percent charged by local bail bondsmen, the thinking went, it made it easier for inmates and their families to post bonds and be released.
But in the rush to implement the program and make it a success to justify its existence, the program pitted the subsidized county bond system against commercial bail bond companies. By restricting access to the commercial bond company personnel and guaranteeing it to the program's staff who could go inside the jail and interview likely customers at will, it gave the county program an unfair advantage.
The money raised from the PTRP was used to built up the staff and fund its operations.
They also cite "estimates" on the amount of money they saved the county when it doesn't have to house the inmates they released. For example, in 2014, they estimate that the PTRP saved the county budget $3.5 million. They multiply the days the defendants were out on bond (88,756 days) times $40 to come up with that figure.They also estimate that the amount earned by the inmates when they are released was $2.06 million. They multiply the hours in the 88,756 days times $7.25 per hour to come up with that figure.
These are, of course, estimates, since the majority of the people let out on bond under the program are listed as "unemployed" on their intake sheet.
Unfair competition aside, one of the issues that has been raised in the PTRP is that in their zeal to rack up the positive numbers (however suspect), the PRTP department has also been less than zealous about the consequences of providing a cheap release to certain type of offenders.
For example, while Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz has launched a crusade to prosecute domestic violence offenders and separate them from their victims, the PTRP seems to have gone out of its way to let them outr as soon as they get booked in jail.
(Actually, the domestic violence campaign started in mid 2013 and is one of a handful of "crusades" initiated by the h DA's PR machine. There's also one for maquinitas, another for a lukewarm stab at keeping Lincoln Park, and others that we're sure will come up in time for his 2016 reelection bid.)
In order for a defendant in  Family Violence Assault case to get indicted, arrested and finally incarcerated, prosecutors working off of the various law enforcement entities around the county conduct interviews with the crime victims, send investigators, and finally present the findings to a grand jury.
Other times, the accused are arrested by the various agencies following an altercation at their residence.
What happens after they are arrested and jailed?
We did an information request of the PTRP for 2014 through February of 2015 and found that the program's intake staff was zealous in signing up these family violence cases. In may cases, the defendants were jailed one day and were out the next on the lower bonds.
In one case, on June 4, an 18-year-old was assessed a $4,000 bond after he was arrested on a Family Violence Assault charge filed by the Rancho Viejo Police Dept. and was released without paying one thin dime. The fees ($120) and the $1 Crime Stopper Fee were waived on the authority of "KDS," referring to Kevin D. Saenz, the director of the program.
These quickie inexpensive releases on these types of cases would seem to fly in the efforts of the county prosecutors to keep the aggressor and the victims separate. There is no notation on the bonds that there are any type of restraining order on the defendants to stay away from the alleged victim.
Just in 2014 alone, a partial listing of the cases that were let out in the PTRD revolving door are listed below:
1. On January 7, a 22-year-old was assessed a $2,500 bond after he was arrested on a Family Violence Assault charge and was released two days later after his mother  paid $77.
2. On January 8, a 54-year-old was assessed a $10,000 bond after she was arrested on a Family Violence Assault with a deadly weapon charge and released the next day after her boyfriend paid $102.
4. On April 29, a 36-year-old was assessed a $5,000 bond after she was arrested on a Family Violence Assault charge and released the next day after her sister-in-law paid $152.
5. On May 6, a 23-year-old was assessed a $1,000 bond after she was arrested on a Family Violence Assault charge and was released one day later after her husband paid $52.
5. On June 8, a 51-year-old was assessed a $7,500 bond after she was arrested on a Family Violence Assault charge and released after her daughter paid $227.
6. On June 11, an 18-year-old was assessed a $5,000 bond after he was arrested on a Family Violence Assault charge and released the next day after his mother paid $152.

The list goes on and on...
Could it be possible that in their efforts to compile a track record and justify its existence the PTRP has left good sense to the winds and sought to release defendants regardless of the nature of the charges?
Or is the program and the DA's Office on opposite tracks?


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

If people charged with domestic violence are being released with reduced bail, doesn't the DA have a presence at those bail hearings???? Maybe this reflects a management issue within the DA's office. Luis loves to be on TV and other media, but that does't mean much. If Luis can't manage this issue, what else is he mismanaging???

Anonymous said...

PHARR- The previous city manager quit in frustration and his temporary
replacement isn't applying for the job. But there are at least 10 hopefuls who want to run City Hall here. Friday's deadline for applicants for the city manager's left 10 candidates hoping to manage a city struggling to pay for its new international bridge.

Among the candidates from the Rio Grande Valley are former Pharr mayor
Fidencio Barrera, former Raymondville city manager Jose Lopez, Elsa City
Manager Joe Cantu Jr., former Weslaco finance director Enrique Guzman, and San Juan Finance Director Pete Maldonado.

Three more hopefuls may have filed late Friday, but city officials could not confirm their names. Nor could they confirm if all met the job qualifications.

The next city manger would replace Pete Sepulveda Jr., who quit in June,
claiming he could not work effectively with the City Commission. The Commission "has encouraged my employees to undermine my efforts and have created a hostile working environment for me," Sepulveda wrote in a resignation letter. "...I tender my resignation involuntarily and solely because of the pressures placed on me."

Pharr officials, who deny Sepulveda's allegations, last week released details of a settlement agreement to pay him $38,199. The Texas attorney general's office advised them the letter was a public record.

"I don't know what he's referring to or who," said City Commissioner Diana

To avoid a costly lawsuit over Sepulveda's allegations, the city negotiated a settlement, said Don Allee, the city attorney.

Sepulveda took sick leave on May 29, claiming some commissioners had put him under a lot of stress, according to settlement documents. He missed a special meeting set for the next day to discuss bridge construction finances, economic development and other funds. Sepulveda's stress, city commissioners contended, was a result of that agenda.

Former LEO said...

Montoya, can you find out what happened on the Joe Lopez assault case? Joe Lopez was an Investigator with the CCDA Office and former Chief Investigator under convicted felon, Armando Villalobos. Was he given preferential treatment because he was with office? This was not the first time that Joe Lopez got into a spat with his wife. She tried to report when Armando Villalobos was in office and he covered it up for his crony Joe Lopez.

Anonymous said...

Joe Lopez got fired the day after it was found he was arrested for assault. DEFINITELY not my definition of preferential treatment, former LEO!